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Dominus Estate Is Behind Iconic Californian Wines

The wine wisdom of Bourdeaux in beautiful harmony with Napa Valley: this is how the iconic Dominus Estate was created. Read the full colourful story here...

Dominus Estate And The Great Top Wines From Napa Valley

Napa Valley is home to some of the world's very best wines, and this is particularly due to the top producers Opus One, Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate and of course Dominus Estate, whose story is unfolded in this article. 

Wonderful Dominus was founded by the owner of mythical Petrus in Pomerol, France. Today, it is still Christian Moueix, who manages and owns Dominus. The passion for winemaking is intense, and there is a huge focus on producing balanced wines of exceptional quality that almost consistently score 100 points from the world's most respected wine critics.

Moueix wants to bring out the terroir of the vineyard, so it can be sensed in the wines. This is done with respect for the soil, the grapes and the people working on the estate. The future should also produce good wines, and according to Moueix, this is only ensured by taking care of the soil today.

In The Footsteps Of The Legendary Jean-Pierre Moueix

Christian Moueix was born in 1946 as the son of Jean-Pierre Moueix - one of the most famous negociants in Bordeaux. When it comes to Bordeaux, Moueix has become internationally synonymous with its very best wines. In the 1960s, the Moueix family owned a number of chateaux in Pomerol and Saint-Emilion, with Petrus as the absolute crown jewel. It was at this time that Bordeaux began to reach out to the world and discover other great wine regions worth exploring.

Christian Moueix began his studies in Paris, where he studied agricultural engineering. However, his keen interest in the vineyards sent him on to oenology and viticulture studies at the University of Davis in California. With wine blood in his veins, it was impossible for him to close his eyes to the great potential of American wines. And this was the start of the American adventure for Christian Moueix. But it all started in Bordeaux.

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The Journey To Napa Valley

In 1970, Christian Moueix returned to France and started in the family business, of which he became president in 1991. Over the years, Christian Moueix has always been driven by production, and in both the vineyard and the cellar, he has helped to raise the bar. In 1973, Moueix was one of the first in Bordeaux to introduce green harvesting to cut yields and increase the concentration of the remaining grapes. During this time, Christian Moueix was in charge of Petrus until the 2008 vintage.

An interest in California was latent for Christian Moueix, and a friendship with Robert Mondavi in California paved the way into the heart of Napa Valley. In 1982, a partnership began with the owners of the Napanook property in Napa Valley at the time, with a clear plan to elevate the quality of this classic estate.

Napanook - From Vineyard To Wine

The Napanook vineyard in Napa Valley has its own long history, starting all the way back in 1836. In 1836, the first vines were planted in Napa Valley by George C. Yount. Some stories suggest that it was the Napanook vineyard he planted in, while others believe it was on the other side of the highway.

In addition to planting vines, George C. Yount also built Yountville, which today is one of the most important towns in Napa Valley.

For many years, the Napanook vineyard was part of the Inglenook estate, but when Inglenook was sold in 1964, John Daniel kept this vineyard. John Daniel was a winemaker, who had helped to create the great legendary wines of Inglenook. His two daughters Robin and Marcia inherited the vineyard when he passed away in 1970, and they were both very active in the wine world. This activity meant that by the time his father died, Robin had already worked with both Bill Harlan and Robert Mondavi. 

Bill Harlan is the owner and founder of Harlan Estate, which earlier in the article was highlighted as one of the most prominent producers in Napa Valley. And Robert Mondavi was a highly recognized pioneer in Napa Valley.

In 1982, the two daughters are introduced to Christian Moueix and they start a formal collaboration on the Napanook vineyard. In the first years, they worked together to create Dominus, whereafter Christian took full ownership of Napanook in 1995.

This complete ownership is also the start of a new era at the Dominus estate, with Swiss architects designing a brand-new winery for production. With new facilities, a secondary wine is introduced from the 1996 vintage following the classic Bordeaux model. The new wine is named Napanook after the vineyard, and the flagship wine retains the name Dominus, which comes from Latin and means Master.

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Dominus Estate Today

Today, the Dominus Estate consists of 42 hectares of vineyards located in the Yountville district of Napa Valley - all part of the historic Napanook vineyard, which for many decades has provided grapes for the best Napa Valley wines. Today, Christian Moueix produces four Napa Valley wines, three of which come from this particular estate.

The winery is designed by Herzog And De Meuron from Switzerland as the first project outside Europe. Since then, they have designed the Tate Modern in London and the Olympic National Stadium in Beijing, to name a few. The winery is built with local materials that blend naturally into the surroundings.

The vineyards are managed according to ecological rules, and sustainability is a very high priority throughout the area. Only small light vehicles are used in the vineyards to further care for the soil, while the whole biodiversity of the area is enhanced by having beehives and crops between the vines, where insects can live. The sustainable mindset is important in all aspects from vineyard to bottling.

From 2021, the whole winery will be certified organic.

The Wines From Dominus Estate

Three wines are produced from Dominus itself and thus the historic Napanook vineyard. This vineyard is primarily managed without irrigation, which helps to lower natural yields and increase the concentration of the grapes that go into production. Almost the same principles are applied as "at home in Bordeaux" when making the three wines.

Dominus is the top wine, which is composed of fruit from the oldest parcels in the vineyard. The wine is composed of up to 90 % Cabernet Sauvignon and smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  The wine has the greatest concentration and ageing potential of the three wines. It is aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, 40 % of which are new. The wine even has the potential to age for a minimum of 40 years. 1983 was the first vintage in which Dominus was produced, and today, less than 50,000 bottles are produced each year.

Napanook is made with the intent of having a more fruit-driven wine with soft tannins that can be drunk and appreciated in its youth. That said, Napanook wine evolves for more than 10 years from the year of harvest. The grapes, of course, come only from the Napanook vineyard and are produced in much the same way as Dominus. The aging, however, is done in a smaller proportion of new barrels. The first vintage of this was 1996, and the production is just over 40,000 bottles a year.

Othello is the latest addition to Dominus. It is the rest of what is not found suitable to be included in the blend of the two main wines from the estate. This could perhaps rightly be called the classic secondary wine, still showing the character of the estate's good vineyards.

Ulysses is produced on a vineyard that Christian Moueix bought in 2008 just a few steps from Napanook, but still on a completely different soil. This is on an alluvial soil in Oakville and gives a different profile to the wine. 2012 was the first vintage after a thorough restoration of the vineyard. New vines were planted in some cases, but the old ones were also re-rooted. In addition, irrigation has been removed from the vineyard to make production as natural as possible. The production of the first vintages is about 10,000 bottles with potential for more.

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Pomerol And Saint-Emilion

Christian Moueix is still president of the negociant company Moueix in Bordeaux, which he manages today with his son Edouard Moueix. The family owns some of the best and most prestigious châteaux in both Pomerol and Saint-Emilion, with Château La Fleur-Petrus and Hosanna in Pomerol among the best. In Saint-Emilion, Château Belair-Monange is the crown jewel. In addition to this, the family also manages a more traditional negociant business, dealing with all the great classified wines of Bordeaux.

Dominant Dominus Estate

"To create wines of singular excellence" was the original vision of Christian Moueix when he first saw this unique vineyard in Napa Valley. Today, that vision is still being pursued, because once you stop, you are quickly surpassed.

Dominus Estate has marked itself as one of the absolute best in Napa Valley. French wine traditions in a California setting have proven to be a duo that makes more than good sense. In any case, world-class wines are produced here rooted in wine passion and massive dedication from Christian Moueix. Minimalist architecture forms the core of Dominus Estate, which is anything but.

The family attaches great importance to the biodiversity of the vineyards as well as the whole sustainable approach to operating a vineyard. This is necessary to adapt to a world of climate change. Today, Dominus Estate employees want to create an environment in which generations can grow in a healthy environment.

In recent years, Moueix and Dominus have helped create the sustainable models that other California wineries are working towards. Most recently, they became certified organic in 2021 under protocols that are far stricter than those we see in Europe.

In recent years, the world has seen a series of wines from Dominus Estate, all of which are highly rated by international critics. With the right people in charge of both vineyard and cellar, the course is set for decades to come.

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